Monthly Archives: August 2003

Book: Absolutely American — Four Years at West Point

Absolutely American
Four Years at West Point

by David Lipsky

I plowed through this book — couldn’t put it down. Lipsky, a reporter for Rolling Stone, followed various students in the G-4 company at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point from the fall of 1999 to the spring of 2002. Lipsky details the different students he met and how they changed over their years at West Point (and how many do not actually make it to the finish line). He also introduces the personalities of the instructors and administrators of West Point and their goal to invigorate these cadets into real soldiers.

This is an extremely good book. One the one hand, it details all that is good about the Army (team work, great race relations, dedication, sacrifice, achievement, etc) and many of the Army’s weaknesses (incredible bureaucracy, uneven punishment, stupid rules that change often, etc.).

I encourage you to tell all your civilian friends to read it. I learned a ton and have continued to build my appreciation of the military.

Almost famous

Almost famous
Musings about fame, knowing, and being known

We often speak of people knowing other people. That implies that any pair of people knows one other. But sometimes, one person “knows of” another and that person is “known by” other people. For example, I know of Britney Spears but she does not know me (unless she’s that person prank calling me every day at 3am). Therefore, we do not know each other.

Even when two people know of one another, that does not mean they actually know each other. Bill Clinton knows of Britney and Britney knows of Bill — but I do not think they actually know one another (and I certainly hope, for Hillary’s sake, that Bill does not “know” Britney like he knows other 21-year-olds).

This phenomenon also applies to web sites. I might link to (according to Google, 14,800 sites link to Fox News) but as of today, Fox News has not linked to Summation (even though I keep sending large fruit baskets and vintage Pez dispensers to Butch, the Fox webmaster). Thus, Fox News is known by me but Summation, as usual, is still three dimes away from a shiny new quarter.

Most people know of more people than they are known by. My definition of someone who’s “famous” is someone who is known by more people than he or she knows of. I started thinking of this recently when a few of my friends in San Francisco started introducing me as the “famous Auren Hoffman.” So I did a quick calculation and, at the very most, I am known by:

* Most of Summation’s newsletter subscribers (12,000)
* People I’ve known throughout my years, growing up, etc. (2,000)
* People I’ve met through business — mostly through BridgePath, my last software company (2,000)
* People that have heard me speak, read my articles published in newspapers, seen me on TV, etc. and that would actually remember me (3,000)

so at most, AT MOST, I am known by 19,000 people.

However, any educated person (even me) knows of far more than 19,000 people (when you think of all the movie stars, politicians, athletes, etc. that you know of). Therefore, I am not famous … maybe I’m “almost famous.”

The one caveat to fame is what I call the “Memento rule of 25,000.” If you recall, the lead character from the movie Memento couldn’t remember anyone except himself (and he barely even remembered that!). He only knew one person but was maybe known by 50 people. He’s still not famous because the Memento rule says that you have to be known by at least 25,000 people no matter what to qualify for Hoffman’s definition of famous.

Malcolm Gladwell Phone Book Test

Malcolm Gladwell, the author of the Tipping Point, wrote his famous Phone Book Test for Connectors:

250 last names … drawn randomly from a New York City phone … Gladwell writes:

Go down the list and give yourself a point every time you see a surname that is shared by someone you know. (The definition of “know” here is very broad. It is if you sat down next to that person on a train, you would know their name if they introduced themselves to you, and they would know your name.) Multiple names count. If the name is Johnson, in other words, and you know three Johnsons, you get three points. The idea is that your score on this test should roughly represent how social you are. It’s a simple way of estimating how many friends and acquaintances you have.

I tried the test myself and scored a 98 (see data below for a full breakdown). Though 98 would represent one of the most connected people Gladwell ever met, I assure you I am not that connected … one of the last names that Gladwell randomly selected was “Hoffman” — my last name.

My breakdown:

Bailey	2
Bell	1
Butler	2
Cohen	4
Cook	3
Chen	5
Chung	1
Diaz	1
Duncan	4
Daly	1
Ellis	3
Friendman	5
Gruber	1
Garcia	1
Gilbert	2
Hawkins	3
Henderson	2
Hoffman	12
Jacobs	1
Johnson	10
Kahn	2
Lin	3
Liu	1
Levine	2
Michaels	1
Marin	1
Murphy	1
Mendoza	1
Perkins	3
Rader	1
Ray	1
Ritter	1
Rose	1
Rosenfeld	2
Roberts	1
Shapiro	1
Spencer	1
Stewart	3
Weinstein 	1
Wang	5
Weed	1

Total 98

administrative assistant at Stonebrick Group

Stonebrick Group is looking for an administrative assistant.

This person must be:
– highly organized
– skilled in event planning
– very task oriented and a problem solver
– very friendly and service oriented
– very self-motivated and self-managed
– technology savvy (Internet savvy, making labels, etc)
– discreet, confidential, diligent

The job consists of:
– organizing events (managing RSVPs, getting the venue, etc)
– data entry (business cards, etc)
– managing calendar and travel of a busy entrepreneur
– some menial tasks (like picking up dry cleaning and shipping at post office)
– working with a large number of highly-networked people
– serving Stonebrick’s growing client base

– office in San Francisco
– full time. Pay is $30-45K.

Please email resume and references (list as many as possible) to: Auren Hoffman at

Search results leading to Summation

Sometimes I wonder where the readers of Summation are coming from. Many random readers come from search engines where they search for keywords and arrive here. In July, the top keyword searches yielding page views at Summation were:

Top 20 of 381 Total Search Strings
#HitsSearch String
19013.37%auren hoffman
3213.12%silicon forum
4111.63%slayton capital
6 91.34%clarium capital
7 91.34%steve vachani
8 91.34%summations
960.89%get a free house
106 0.89%stonebrick group
1150.74%gregory slayton
1250.74%how to get a free house
1440.59%andrei cherny
1540.59%auren hoffman stonebrick
1640.59%eileen tso
1740.59%hawaii superferry
1840.59%iggy ioppe
1940.59%joel hornstein
2040.59%mark gerson

Book review: Cruel Shoes by Steve Martin

Cruel Shoes
by Steve Martin

i was in new york, in larchmont to be exact … was visiting my mom when i found this book, an old book from the 1970s, on her bookshelf … i took up the book and placed it in my travel bag — you never know when one might need it to read …

Cruel Shoes by Steve Martin is quick, funny, and made my laugh. i certainly couldn’t ask for anything else as i read it at the plane’s gate …

Book review: Linked by Albert-Laszlo Barabasi

by Albert-Laszlo Barabasi

How Everything is Connected to Everything Else and What is Means for Science, Business and Everyday Life

This is a very interesting book. It has remnants of Six Degrees and Tipping Point. I’d say it was a bit better than Six Degrees but no where near as compelling as the Tipping Point.
Even though, I suggest this book — it will certainly make you think (and it is a quick read).

Book: Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion
by Robert B. Cialdini Phd

This is one of the best books I have read this year and would highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in how people tick. This is very important for marketers, psychologists, or anyone else who needs to understand and persuade people (pretty much everyone). The book details why humans act the way we do and how we make seemingly irrational decisions all the time based on the context of the decision. The book is full of interesting examples and studies and is also written in a tight, informal, and humorous manner. I highly suggest reading this book.

(To see more book reviews, check out the Hoffman Reading List at